The film of The Help came out this weekend, and I know everybody else is going to be talking about it, and it’s my day today, and it’s been on my mind, so why not?
I will try not to spoil too much, but if you’re trying to stay pure before you read/see – you’ve been warned.
First, the book.
I understand why it’s popular and I also understand why there’s a backlash against it. I have to say it – it made me uncomfortable.
Now, uncomfortable is an emotion, not an objective criticism. And I don’t read books for comfort most of the time, I read for passion and thrills and to live a certain experience. Which can all be comforting, in their way.
I know a lot of people feel passionately about this book and I don’t mean to undercut that. But I’ll just try to describe the discomfort I felt about it.
There’s been a lot of criticism about the dialect, especially Aibileen’s. I didn’t mind the dialect at first – I love figuring out phonetically how people are speaking, myself, I’m actually a little obsessed with phonetics, and I know I’ve been guilty of going overboard with it in my own writing on occasion. But as I kept reading and got to the white characters…. who were portrayed with no such dialect at all…
Well, to write in such a broad way for an African-American character and not at all for white Mississippians… who have some of the deepest accents in the South….
But what made me most uncomfortable about the book was that all of these maids ended up in the service of a white woman again, to get “her” book written. It made me feel guilty of being patronizing by association.
And I think a whole lot was left out.
Now, I know perfectly well that as a California native I cannot possibly understand the relationship between white children and the African-American women who raised them (Southern friends of mine say, “My other mom”). In fact, there are a whole lot of things about the South I will never understand, but that’s another post.
And as a white woman I have no business speculating about what was or was not true to the actual experience of the African-American women portrayed in the book.
But even so, I can’t believe that the depths of anger that must, must have been there, and are still there, were adequately portrayed.
I think it’s a good story. I think Stockett is talented, and she’s obviously created some powerful characters. I would rather have read this subject from an African-American point of view. That’s not Stockett’s fault. Absolutely, obviously, she wrote the book from her heart. But I felt that as the author she was offering a forgiveness to the white characters in the book that is not hers to offer.
And I sure would like to read a book with an alternative POV now.
The movie was less uncomfortable for me, possibly because I knew what I was going into, and a lot because of three key performances.
– Viola Davis as Aibileen. I would camp out overnight to see this woman read the phone book. I think she’s one of the major actors of our time. It is her movie, period. The depths of emotion – and emotional truth – that I didn’t find in the book I did find in her performance, and she has the authority to portray it.
– Emma Stone as Skeeter. Ever since Zombieland I’ve been seeing everything she’s in. The most exciting young actress working in Hollywood, I think, she’s stunning. And while I’m sure this was how she was directed, too, she knows this is not her story. I had huge problems with the Skeeter character in the book; I don’t think she ever got how irrelevant she was in the bigger picture. The movie cuts her role down to a more proportionate size, and portrays the character more as a journalist simply recording stories instead of acting as if this book is all her doing, and Emma Stone has moments – I felt – of reflecting the shame of her situation. It’s not really there in the book or the movie, but I felt it in her.
Btw, I have to say it for those who were here for my post 2 weeks ago: Tom Cruise doesn’t hold a candle to Emma Stone in the “too pretty to play the character” category, but it didn’t matter a bit, here (because Emma Stone is one of those actresses who leaves room for an audience to inhabit her AND her emotion and ferocious mental life sort of overwhelm her beauty). As a matter of fact, Viola Davis is way too pretty to play Aibileen. Pretty much the definition of Hollywood is “too pretty”.
– Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly. What a great villain this is! In my opinion Hilly is half of why this book has become a classic, and Howard doesn’t shy away from the viciousness. It’s a comic character, but the has her moments of wonderfully ordinary evil. I sure hope she made some people uncomfortable.
I think I liked the movie better than the book for the first half (and the dialect issues are much less apparent, partly because you can hear the broad accents in ALL of the characters) and I was totally with it, and also appreciating the adaptation – there were some very deft, concise additions and staging to underline the real stakes. Until that midpoint where
SPOILER (although the trailer does it anyway)
The maids agree to tell their stories.
And then the action just kind of stopped. It was an interesting thing to see, because theoretically the cuts that writer/director Tate Taylor made should have made the story play better, but actually nothing much happens in the second half of the book, and that just gets more and more obvious in the movie. The film gets a little embarrassing as it works the pie joke way too many times over a solid fifteen minutes, and the big reveal of how and why Skeeter’s beloved housemaid “left the family” is a pale shadow of what happens in the book, an awkward and unconvincing scene (it’s also staged in a room that is way too small for the action, a very strange choice. I could barely watch the action for trying to figure out why the scene was taking place where it was.) Also in the film the Millie and Celia subplot is cut down so much that I didn’t feel much investment in it. And unfortunately Millie’s character loses the internal life that she had in the book.
But the truth is nothing much happens in the second half of the book. So even when you cut out all the obvious fat, when you put it up on screen almost everything feels like filler. To ME. Until the end, where
Aibileen has a great final confrontation with Hilly – you can see her talking to her just as any one of the seventeen children she raised, and to me, that really worked, emotionally – it takes a lot to make me cry but I was wrecked.
I don’t know, this is hard. I have to think it’s always a good thing when a popular work of art puts a spotlight on racism; my discomfort is the feeling that the book and maybe the film are more of a feel-good bromide than any meaningful step toward – even a discussion that might change attitudes. But I could be totally wrong; maybe both the book and the film are doing good where good needs to be done.
And it does force me to think about the way I portray race in my own books, and how I’m falling short. And that – is good.
Anyway, Rati, if you’re up for it – what do you think?
Well, I'll get the first stones thrown.
I haven't read the book yet nor seen the movie yet. I am familiar with its story. And I didn't grow up in the South. I grew up in Montana where white people are the majority, yes, but there is also a live and let live attitude in the West.
Here come the stones: I think there is a race issue in this country *only* because people keep perpetuating it for political purposes and the incorrect use of affirmative actions. The majority of the country doesn't care about the color of one's skin but only the content of their character. The issue only becomes an issue when it is used as a weapon and sadly it is used often and wrongly.
I would put forth that with this book/film it is incorrectly labeled as an issue of race. It is one of different and clashing cultures or even of classes (the well to do vs the service class — examples would include England of the 30s)
Alexandra, a really fantastic read is by David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge.
Ok, bring on the stones.
Well, PK, you're right about different attitudes in the West and the South. I can't agree at all with the comparison between "service classes" in England and racism in the US – the service classes in England were certainly oppressed, but they weren't literally legally owned or legally barred from the rights of ordinary citizens because of the color of their skins.
I will check out the book, thanks!
PK, you're either not serious or delusional. Race is only an issue because people keep making it one? I can't even believe that is true in Montana. And that content of their character comment, never mind. I am a college educated, reasonably successful woman, not given to speaking in slang and polite to people even when they give a reason not to be, and I've still been called nigger by people who don't even know me. Please don't say it's a non-issue. It is very much an issue. Now. Moving on. I've read the book, seen the movie, and my mother was a maid from Mississippi. I was most bothered by the retaliation against Hilly. Maybe some people did such things, but my mother would never have even entertained the thought. It just wasn't 'right'. Still, I liked the book once I got past the dialect issues, and the movie wasn't bad. I agree about the second half being a bit slow, but it ended very well.
Thanks for the comment, Robin. I have no doubt that that outrageous behavior leveled at you stems from racism – personal and societal.
Very interesting that the retaliation bothered you most. I always looked at it as poetic justice, and thematic in a literary sense. One of the things the movie got really right was Hilly's "bathroom issues" , and I don't meant the initiative. You have to wonder what her own toilet training was.
I grew up in this exact environment, only in Virginia, but this book was off center for me. The characters weren't real, only caricatures. I'm not apologizing for a single bit of the near-slavery in the system, but I didn't know a single woman who treated her "help" this way. If they had, the help would have quit, told all her friends about it, who would have told their employers, who would have been shocked. And they would have told the woman so, and her preacher would have visited her, and told her that in this town no one treated "our people" this way. Plus no one would have worked for the woman ever again–she would be "helpless!" Again, I'm not apologizing for the system–it was as nasty as civilized society could get, but its portrayal should be real, not fantasy. And the other thing that bothers me, the white heroine "leads" the black women into independence and self-assurance! Black people led their own civil rights movement, white people joined in when it became safe to do so! Anyway, that's my 2 cents!
Let me just say that every time I read your posts I could have written them myself, meaning that I agree with everything you say. Love reading them!
I am from the South (New Orleans). I did grow up knowing these experiences (Kathryn Stockett was too young to remember the 1960's or she wasn't even born yet). And I AM writing a novel with an alternative point of view. I had been researching the book for several years and had the idea way before THe HELP came into being. I start the novel In New Orleans on July 1, 1964. Just a day I picked. But guess what, it's the same day LBJ singed the Civil Rights Act into being. Did I Have any idea when I picked that date? No. But it certainly will change the way I approach the characters. How could it not? That's what I find so frustrating about THE HELP. The issues went much deeper than whether or not the maids would upset their employers, but the book never delved into that. Skeeter's character was wooden. Could she not see what jeopardy she was placing these people in? My novel is about a widow and three generations of black women who help her survive, as told by a granddaughter who comes to visit every four years and through the eyes of two of the black women. It carries yo through 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976. It is tentatively called LAUGH BEFORE DAWN, CRY BEFORE NIGHT. I hope to have the first draft to my agent by December.
Alexandra, the book/film is set in the 1960s. Yes, race was an issue then but "the help" were not owned. Yes, the ignorance is staggering in that time period even as it is within recent memory but don't confuse those racial/social issues with slavery.
Slavery is a completely different issue and all civilizations at one time practiced it which doesn't condone it but the US didn't invent it.
Again, these issue continue because individuals *choose* to perpetuate the differences between people WHEN THERE ARE NONE. It is good perhaps to look upon an ignorant recent past and compare it to how much it has changed and we can make a difference by choosing not to participate in that kind of ignorance. Forgive those who are stupid, recognizing they are stupid. Substitute the word "black" for anything else, Jewish, North Dakotan, and realize it is a choice to create separations.
Hi Sarah! I can imagine that situations varied from town to town and were influenced by the societal leaders of the community: a good pastor, or junior league leader could improve the situation greatly, a bad one could make it much worse.
I agree – it had me squirming all through the book that Skeeter, green as she is, was leading this. I felt the movie was less offensive on that front.
Laura, I'm glad to hear it (and anything set in New Orleans….)
The movie was much more clear about the jeopardy – and Viola Davis has a great scene of lacing Skeeter down for NOT realizing it.
PK, I don't think there are differences between people but there are certainly differences in the way society treats people. The Jim Crow laws were still in effect in the South (and other parts of the US) in the sixties – there was LEGAL discrimination that perpetuated the conditions of slavery.
I read the Help. I confess that I was probably predisposed to find it condescending but was lucky enough to have dinner with the author around the time I read the book. As a result, I gave considerable thought to the work. Ultimately I decided that any problem I have is not with the book, but with other people's reactions to the book. As you point out, Alex, Stockett can't be criticized for choosing to write the book she wrote as opposed to a book from another character's perspective or which delves into the still ever-present role of race in our country. The dialect also didn't bother me. So it's not the book.
What bothers me is my suspicion that many of the people who read this book do so only to comfort themselves: "Well thank goodness we're not like that anymore."
Ultimately, though, I'm thankful for the broad success of any kind of work that gets people talking about race, however uncomfortable those discussions might be.
What Sarah said. I grew up in the South, in the 60's and yes, I was raised by a wonderful African American lady named Lottie who worked for my dad before he was married, and then again after I was born. There was a lot wrong with the system, most notably low pay, lack of security, and when the job was over, you could forget about any kind of retirement or even Social Security because you hadn't paid into the system.
But overt "viciousness" to your help? That would be TACKY, shug. Hell, I got a major chewing out (And narrowly escaped a "whuppin'" only because Dad wasn't home) for even being casually rude to Lottie. I had to apologize, and I remember being ashamed of myself to this day. (And I should have. I was being an obnoxious little shit).
I'm not saying the society wasn't racist. It was. The word "nigger" was casually tossed around among my parents' circle, and there were things black folks just didn't do. But no one would have been trashy enough to actually say something like that to Lottie's face.
I t. as born in the early forties, grew up in the 50’s in Southern Illinois. East St. Louis, site of some of the worst race riots in history. I have a friend from Memphis my age.
We were not racists. We grew up with the blacks side by side without a problem. They new their place and they kept it. And all was fine. Sure. We called them coons or n’s, but they were just expressions. They were as good as we were. Maybe not as intelligent, maybe not as well dressed, maybe not as energetic, maybe not as able to work jobs my friends could work. But they were fine. They knew their place and they kept it.
My friend from Memphis remembers the black folks that mowed her lawn. She said her mother was not racist. She even served the black men lunch, which they ate outside in the Memphis humidity sheltered in the shade of an Elm before they went on their way.
I went back to Southern Illinois recently. I actually heard the n word spoken in embarrassing stupidity by a member of my family.
Racism still burns brightly, fueled as others said by political expediency, fear, ignorance.
The whites still treat the blacks differently. The blacks, however, are seldom called racists. Yet…
We need more books like The Help that reach out to the everyday person, that make good movies, that hold up a mirror.
Although a Westerner, I had the same experience growing up that JD had, raised by a wonderful African-American woman named Mae Mae. It was appalling to me, to hear my sister recall last week that Mae Mae never sat down in our house. Whether tending to the five kids or folding clothes or eating her lunch, she always remained standing. How abysmal that I never even noticed.
I haven't read the book or seen the movie, The Help, but I'm interested in listening to the audio book, as I think it would reduce the emphasis on the dreaded use of dialect.
I only hope that I don't identify too closely with Skeeter, and see myself in the role of the white girl that helped the maids open up. Cause that just wouldn't be true.
I went to a reading last night where the final person up described his own racism, provoked in part by his being just about the only white kid at Richmond High out here in the enlightened bay area during the 1980s. He was six feet tall and 130 pounds, and knew he looked weird. Some kid decided to mess with him, told him to get his stinky white stuff out of HIS locker. Well, it wasn't HIS locker, otherwise he'd know the lock combination and could throw the stinky white stuff out himself. The white beanpole just ignored him. Until one day, as he was putting on his shirt, had it over his head, and got jumped. A fat kid sat on his chest while his tormentor proceeded to break his jaw. He said, "If you've ever dropped a terra cotta pot onto the floor and heard it shatter, you'll know what it sounded like inside my head." To this day, he never puts his shirt on so that he doesn't have a free arm — or can't see. "Some habits are hard to break," he said as he ended. "Just like racism."
IN my introduction to DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING?, I make a similar remark. I'd like to say I'm not racist, but I didn't have a conversation with a black person my own age until I was 12 — that was how segregated Columbus, Ohio was. And by then my mind had been niggered up pretty well by my friends. To this day, my first impulses with black strangers are often negative — it's a fucking curse. Thank God my wife and I had a lot of black clients in our law practice, and I got to be friends with many of these families, and found a way out of this prison. But it's a prison, it's real, and it's now. When you know it in yourself, you see it in others, and I see it everywhere. It's like alcoholism — you never really get over it. You become aware of it, and deal with it. Whenever those negative impressions come up, I tell myself: Stop. Don't. Remember the people you know.
I'm sorry PK, I don't agree racism only exists in the minds of people seeking political advantage. The neurobiologist David Eagleman discusses racism in his book INCOGNITO: The Hidden Life of the Brain. The problem isn't that racism is a myth. It's that our conscious minds do not accept it, and explain it away. "There's not a racist bone in my body" is the truest sign of a racist that exists.
Racism is one form of the fear of strangers. And we still live in a divided world. Be honest: most if not all of your friends are the same race as you are. I think it's changing, but to say racism doesn't exist is top live in a fool's paradise.
" It's like alcoholism — you never really get over it. You become aware of it, and deal with it. Whenever those negative impressions come up, I tell myself: Stop. Don't. Remember the people you know."
Yep. I'm often amazed by the ugly thoughts that still pop into my head from time to time. I deal with it by reminding myself, "now Dusty, you know that there are white assholes like this, too."
>>>What bothers me is my suspicion that many of the people who read this book do so only to comfort themselves: "Well thank goodness we're not like that anymore." <<<
You put it perfectly, Alafair, exactly.
Wow. Pretty powerful dialogue going on here.
I haven't read The Help or seen the film, so I surely cannot comment on either.
I was pretty much of a chameleon growing up. I flitted around, fitting into the two communities I knew well – the Jewish community, of course, as I went to Hebrew school in preparation for my bar mitzvah, and the Chicano community, as I grew up in New Mexico. There was almost no black community to speak of in my high school – we were mostly white and Hispanic. But I did spend some time as the only white kid in a ten-person jazz band comprised of African Americans. Music is the great equalizer. Thank God for music, because, as a player, I was instantly introduced to the soul of the individual. We communicated at a deeper level.
I wasn't introduced to racism until I went to college in Denton, Texas. Suddenly there were lines drawn between blacks and whites. It came as a complete shock to me. It still makes me feel woozy when I think about it. I had been living in a bubble up until then.
I haven't read the book or seen the movie, and all I really know about either (aside from this great post, Alex) is Melissa Harris-Perry's commentary about it.
But I've had the knowledge of racism floating in my internal workings since I was very small. My mother, of Native American descent but with dark, curly hair, tanned darkly, and when we were traveling through Mississippi when I was, I dunno, 3 or 4, was refused service at a restaurant "even if you are that white child's nigger nanny". My mom, a USAF WWII veteran and without a racist bone in her body, may very well have leveled that restaurant.
My first playmate was black, and I never thought about skin colors until I was much older and was told that I should. But I listen to some of the stories Lillian tells about growing up in 60's Virginia and it almost sounds stereotypical. And yet, these are stereotypes based in reality, these people were real, black and white.
From Alex, who is having trouble posting:
– The thing is, Dusty, you and Sarah are two of the most compassionate and conscious people I know. I can extrapolate back from who you are and imagine how the environments in your houses were.
I have met a lot of other people who do NOT have your character and I can extrapolate back and imagine how the environments in their houses were, and in my imagination the situation is even worse than Stockett portrayed it.
– Judy, very eloquent illustration of the issue, and I agree: if the book is causing some self-reflection in ANYONE, it’s a good thing.
– Louise, wow. Yeah. Not sitting for an entire day – I mean, just that.
I’ll be interested to see what you think of Skeeter. I did not identify with her in the book, I did in the movie.
– David, I would be a fool and delusional to think I’m not racist. I think it’s like what I said yesterday in the discussion on Steve’s post, and what Dusty just said above about thoughts – we have to be so conscious and vigilant about these idiot thoughts that come from – wherever. And so if this book and the film makes me more vigilant – that’s good.
I grew up in the south in the sixties. Yes, the book and movie gloss over MUCH of the ugliness of that time and place. And yet—it also shows another generation a taste of what it was like and has opened up a lot of dialogue on the issues of race then and now. Any book/movie that shines a light in dark places is worth it.
Yes, I wish this book had been written by an African-American author. It wasn't. That story STILL needs to be told. That does not lessen the value of THIS book/movie, though.
I completely agree, Kay.
Alex, you've reached deep within us. Awareness is the first step to change. And I look forward to reading more, from different perspectives. Hooray for you, Alex, for bring up the subject.
And Louise, I agree about insidious thoughts. Anne Lamont's KFKD broadcasts comments about other things as well as writing and self image.
Just think, hasn't been so long since a picture like The Help would not have seen he dark of a theater.
Alex, thank you.
-We were not racists. We grew up with the blacks side by side without a problem. They new their place and they kept it. And all was fine. Sure. We called them coons or n’s, but they were just expressions. They were as good as we were. Maybe not as intelligent, maybe not as well dressed, maybe not as energetic, maybe not as able to work jobs my friends could work. But they were fine. They knew their place and they kept it.-
Oh my. They knew their place and kept it. Not once, but twice.
-Sure. We called them coons of n's, but they were just expressions.-
-Maybe not as intelligent, maybe not as well dressed, maybe not as energetic, maybe not as able to work jobs my friends could work. But they were fine.-
Okay. I'm at a loss for words. PK, if you still think racism doesn't exist read this post. I'll be over here, being thankful I was raised well enough, energetic enough, well dressed and intelligent enough not to be sorely offended by these words.
Robin, I know it's shocking and horrifying to read, but Judy was writing in first person to demonstrate how racist the thinking was and is – unvarnished. Because she does understand.
You should have seen my father's face when my grandmother said, "We're Black."
"You mean black Irish, Mother."
"No, I mean we're Black."
That was the last time I heard anyone in my family discuss it. If I bring it up at family gatherings, no one hears me, except once when one of my father's sisters said, "Well, we know how you got into Harvard. Maybe we should try that." Everyone laughed. My mother was Metis.
Strangely enough, Alex, my wife asked me just the other day whether I had any interest in seeing this film, and my answer was an emphatic "NO." Not because I have any informed opinion of the actual film, but because I AM ALL DONE WITH THE "How My Family's Black Maid/Butler/Driver/Nanny/Cook Changed Our Ignorant White Lives Forever" storyline. Period. I don't care if Nelson Mandela writes the next one, I won't be reading the book or viewing the film.
I'm planning to write a future post on themes that need to get the Dracula treatment, once and for all — ram a stake in their hearts and hammer it home — and the Driving/Raising/Cooking For Ms. Daisy premise is going to be right up there at the top of my list.
I'm laughing, Gar, but I can only imagine how irritating it must be. Will be looking forward to your post.
I have to agree with the Angry Black Male who just commented. Redemption through ethnicity is oh so very tired, and has been since E. M. Forster started shipping off effete pasty-skinned Anglo-Saxons to Italy to find discover their Roman mojo.
Alex, I haven't see this one and have no desire to.
Gar, I can't wait for that post. I know it's going to be a doozy.
Gee, Alex, here you are being all demure and non-controversial again. You've really got to work on expressing yourself, dear.
But yeah, Gar just addressed the whole film topic better and with more authority than I ever could. I haven't seen it (or read it) and have no desire to.
But I do want to say this. To those who claim racism is dead or no longer an issue, that has not been my experience. At all. It's alive and, unfortunately, flourishing here in the South. I'm a white woman who grew up in Minnesota. The only black people I EVER encountered during that part of my life were a family of four who moved into a house behind ours and they were from Michigan and the dad had two PhD's and the mom had one PhD and they were engineers or scientists or some kind. Nice people, for intellectual snobs. They had two sons and, even though I was at the age when all boys had cooties as far as I was concerned, they seemed nice too.
I was raised believing it was wrong and unacceptable to discriminate against others. For any reason. That was hardly put to the test in MN. Then I moved to Atlanta. There are a lot of black people in Atlanta. If you work downtown and ride the bus and walk the streets (no, not like that) you find out in a big hurry whether what you believe matches up with they way you act. How can you claim not to be a racist if you've never known any black people? You can't.
One of my best friends at work was a black woman a few years older than I and she was assigned to train me how to use the word processor (calling it a computer would have been a stretch). She wanted nothing to do with me. But then we bonded over a mutual contempt for our manager and realized her sense of humour was even drier than mine. We became friends. Work friends. Because our home lives were in two different worlds and that was a line neither of us could cross (there's a story there, about a time I refused to accept my "place," but this is too long already). But holy hell, did we get grief for eating lunch together every day. This was in the 80s. The worst public comments came from her black friends; the worst private ones came from my white acquaintances. I won't repeat them here, but they were ugly and hurtful.
With the exception of four years in South Florida [where the prejudice is toward Jews and New Yorkers and Haitians (who are absolutely reviled by black Americans in FL) ], I've lived in the South for three decades (currently in NC). I've worked with and come to know a lot of black people during that time. Hell yes, there is racism. It hasn't gone away.
If you confront the people who make racist comments, they will vehemently deny being racist. They honestly don't think they are. I can't even tell you how many times I've been told by people who are otherwise intelligent and kind, "You're not from here, you don't understand. I'm not being racist; that's just how they [blacks] are." Then they turn to someone nearby and and say, "Isn't that right? You tell her." And the other person nods. Sadly. As if it's all just such a shame that black people are the way they are.
It makes me goddamned fucking furious. There's your anger, Alex.
But the black people I've known well enough to discuss anger over racism won't admit to being angry. Not to me. They shrug and say to just ignore it. That it doesn't matter. What good does it do to get angry, nothing is going to change. Being angry every single day of your life takes too much energy. It is what it is. And I guess I've decided that maybe anger is reserved for people who have hope that things might change.
So please do not tell me racism in this country is no longer an issue. It is. And I suspect it always will be.
Now, do I delete this comment or post it? Silence feels unacceptable, so post it is.
Count me as among the people eagerly awaiting Gar's post.
And I downloaded the first couple of chapters of The Help to the Kindle. I can see why there's discomfort, but truthfully, as someone who grew up in the South…yeah, I can hear that voice. It's not perfect, but near enough.
Still., for the reasons Gar noted, I'm not going to download the rest or see the movie. "How My Family's Black Maid/Butler/Driver/Nanny/Cook Changed Our Ignorant White Lives Forever" is just another iteration of the Magic Negro trope which is just as condescending and destructive.
I grew up in a tiny southern town and we had a "maid" – she came to take care of me the day I came home from being born in the hospital and stayed until my youngest brother was in high school.
As far as I was concerned she was one of my dearest loved ones. My mom worked outside the home and C. took care of me all day, every day. She was the one who walked with me across town to the library to get books, she fought off a big German Shepherd with a broom when he attacked our small rescue dog, she sang to me, she fed me, we spent hours and hours together.
She had six children of her own and I remember feeling guilty that she left them to care for me. None of them ever seemed resentful when I encountered them. I stopped going to church in the fifth grade when I invited her to go and my mother and the minister told me she couldn't come – she had her own church. The hypocrisy and the racism of that blew my young mind.
The grand wizard (( think that's what he was called) of the KKK in the southeast lived in our county and I knew his children. I grew up wanting things to be different. We attended the important events in her children's lives and were guests of honor at her daughter's wedding. C. sat beside my parents on the front row of each of our weddings. She lived on a farm which her husband and children worked and I envied that on a daily basis. Guess where I live now, at age 51? On a farm. She was a huge force in my life.
I loved the book and haven't seen the movie. I think whatever Stockett got wrong I probably just "fixed" in my own head as I read it. The parts she got right really touched me. And yet I had friends who had "maids" they were not close to and didn't have the impact C. had on me.
Do you remember that TV show I'll Fly Away? It explored some of these issues from a slightly different perspective.
I think the book portrayed racism in a believable way.
But it's interesting that none of the white characters were intriguing.
Skeeter got on my nerves big time.
I thought her motives were selfish and misguided.
Actually, every white female character including the recently married woman who pretended she could cook when she couldn't pretty much annoyed me.
Robin, I'm so sorry if I offended you. I was trying to show the stupidity and ignorance that surrounded me in my youth. Fortunately, we have transcended our heritage to realize that people are people and need to be accepted on an individual basis. You will notice I did not say judged because I may see an angry black, or angry white or angry asian yelling in the street but I don't know what brought that person to that spot in his life. As Maya Angelou says. When we know better, we can do better. I struggle with prejudice of many types every day, but I am aware…therefore I can do better. Day by day to make my world a little better.
And I just don't think I want to read or see another person murdered and the killer brought to justice…so ho hum.
Groan… when will it evah end? er, ever end.
Apologies in advance –I am new here and found you by looking for discussions about the movie The Help. May I offer what I fear will be a rather prickly response to the movie?
Amen to Gar Haywood above. And to PK, Sarah and JD Rhoades.
And thank you too, to David Corbett–who notes that in Ohio there was segregation. Frequently the assumption is that segregation existed only in the South. David also points out the research that indicates primal racism is perhaps instinctive–a natural fear of the stranger. As such it may be impossible to eradicate completely. Our task is to acquire the virtue of respect for the other (of whatever difference).
Could a movie be any more overstuffed with caricatures?
I confess, I have not read Stockett's book. I did see the movie yesterday. The acting is laudable, period cars, wardrobe and hairstyles were spot on. It's a pity the storyline is hackneyed. Let us count the ways. The maids were all virtuous. The Jr. Leaguers were all obnoxious twits, the Blacks were the true Christians, the white Christian woman was a Pharisee, the awkward 6th grader who becomes the I'll -show-you-why-I-never-had-a date but-am–really-a -swan-after-all girl crusader wins the day, and the South as land of the arch-bigoted ignoramuses. The only cartoon missing was the mirrored sunglasses fat-boy, sweaty-faced sheriff. Oh, oh, and don't forget, the trailer park tramp who has a heart of gold, and was really not such a tramp after all, it was just her Jessica Rabbit body and style of dress that made her so misunderstood. Wait, wait ! And the no-account-shiftless black man who deserts his a woman to fend for herself and six starving kids.
Gar, it seems to me, has hit upon a significant point: It is as much about class differences as racial differences. There has always been a stratification of the classes and tension between those who serve and those who are served. I find it an odd blindness that Americans can melt into puddles over the Kate & William nuptials, sigh dreamily over the royals and never worry a moment about the butler, the footmen, the cook, the laundress, the scullery maids. Princess Katie is not scrubbing out Price Wills' toilet. The same stratification of classes holds true in South America, "Old Europe" and Japan. It holds true in Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is not right, but it is so. We, as Americans, believe in a meritocracy and on balance we are far less class conscious than other cultures.
I grew up in Jackson, my Mama was in her 30s in 1960s, we had black help, I had a black nanny.
My Daddy would have knocked a man flat on his back for speaking unkindly to a black (or white) woman, particularly one of "ours". Sarah above is correct–it would be TACKY in the extreme to behave as Hilly did and other women would NOT tolerate such disgusting behavior. It just wasn't done. That is not to say that it was never done–oh certainly it was. But that would be the exception and not the rule.
It is a form of racism to speak of the Help as "ours" –but it was not an ownership per se , rather an extended family. I understand in present times that the idea of noblesse oblige rubs raw. It was simply a different time, but for all that, the movie portrayed this different time as a cartoon. How sad it is that ( in the movie) no attempt was made to portray at least one relationship of mutual love and honor and loyalty between a white family and the black family that served them. And there were many such relationships.
The help was underpaid, I am sure, though I know of dozens of instances where my parents and others paid for cars, medical bills, education, and house repairs. These were examples of "taking care" of the Help and were not loans. Yes, segregation was the law, including public facilities. (and YES, that is horrifying) But, never, and I do mean never, was I aware of any bathroom question in private homes–how ridiculous. These beloved black women bathed us, fed us, and dressed us white "chirren" and any "different germs" would have been communicated in these activities. My recollections also include gutsy black maids who had no trouble speaking up for themselves or for what was right–they were not cowed by snippy white girls with no manners.
Were there revolting people who abused Blacks? Yes. And they lived in Jackson and Boston and Chicago and Memphis. They still do. But to imply that the "truth" about race relations is found in The Help is itself bigotry.
In sum, the movie is so stereotypical that it should be taught in film class as how NOT to write a screenplay about race.
I agree, to a degree, with PK, Let's move on. Racism is not that big of an issue in the United States any longer except where the scab is picked at via movies or docudramas. It is far worse in most other nations. We have made tremendous progress, though we have hardly eradicated all forms of prejudice based on color. Still, education is available to anyone who wants it. Opportunities exist today that would make the Black people of the 60s swoon. Much has been accomplished. I hope we can move forward.
PK, great analysis — I totally agree.
I don't like books or movies where anger is the driving emotion, which is why I shy away from movies or books with racial issues as a major component, so that's why (I think — I haven't read THE HELP or seen the movie) the book resonated because people want to understand without rage and hatred on either side. (From what I've read about the book, and confirmed from your post, Alex.)
Very fair commentary and I felt the same way in terms of embarrassment. You explain it well. And you give credit where you can. I found the book a compelling read but was all the while aware of the machinery of the author making the correct point and the glossing over of anything that argued that point. Thanks for beginning this dialogue.
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I am a screenwriter who adapted the Pulitzer Prize-winning book SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME for the screen with its author who is also the senior national correspondent of The Wall Street Journal. The book is an historical expose of slavery post Civil War and spans 70 year's time. However, we focused on a single story out of many for the script. Let me share, while every single producer who reads it says it's an intelligent, well-written and important film that "MUST" be made, none have said, "yes". Why? Because it's grim, dark, and it will indeed change the way society views our nation's history. In fact, the book is now required reading in university US History classes across our country. But producers feel in this difficult economic time, people would rather watch comedies than dark stories. Perhaps that's why THE HELP kept things light. Necessity from a marketing standpoint.
But the good news is Quentin Tarantino is making DJANGO UNCHAINED, and Brad Pitt is producing a separate film revolving around slavery, so clearly, Hollywood is opening the door. Sure, the door opened easily for men with the talent of QT and Pitt because of their proven record, but I'm hoping now our script will have a better shot too.
I did see THE HELP this past weekend. While it was entertaining, it fell short of being socially relevant by not pushing the envelope once the maids agreed to help. As a storytelling vehicle, they lost a wonderful opportunity to add conflict… conflict that indeed would have raised the stakes and kept us entertained and holding our breath. But that's just my opinion. I do hope THE HELP aids other race-related films to get onscreen as well.
Jeanne, thanks for the comment. I'll get the book; I haven't read it. I hope the film does get made, and you bring up a great point, that the success of The Help may open the door to more accurate films being made.
I guess I assumed people blogging about The Help would have at least read the book or seen the movie or both. Seems that most just want to assure everyone that they themselves are not racists. Come on people… read it or see it, then comment. The book is well written, yes it has some weaknesses but overall has more character development than most and deals with a relatively untouched subject.
Having spent the last 13 years in the deep south I can tell you there was some culture shock for my kids and me. Jackson, MS is still very deeply Southern and in my mind very much attempting to live in 1965. Birmingham, AL has had to face it's racial demons and has had the country watch as it became a very racially diverse city with a great blending of cultures
As my 18 year old said after seeing the movie, it's a great way to teach history and show you how prejudices get passed down. Most of those women weren't bad they just lived the way their parents did. Its only when you look at their lives from today's world can you see how wrong they were. This would be a great movie to show in schools. It really teaches you how important it is to learn to think for yourself.
So maybe that's the highest praise of all. We can pick the book and the dialogues and the accents apart but those all are very minor compared to the impact the book/movie have had. Thought provoking and moving. Could it delve deeper? Could it … Yes, yes, yes … It's not perfect, but neither is the real world. It's well worth the read and the movie is well worth the money and your time.